January 10, 2022

Sharma Condemns Calls to Boycott Sydney Festival

I welcome the resolve and courage shown by the Sydney Festival in honouring its commitments and staring down attempts at intimidation and to stifle free expression.

 

Calls by various groups to boycott the Sydney Festival due to the inclusion of the dance performance Decadence are both thoroughly misguided and deeply damaging to those who support dialogue and understanding as the basis for peace and co-existence. I condemn such calls wholeheartedly.

 

Such calls are also fundamentally at odds with the purposes of art and culture, which at its best contains a message that transcends difference and is universal in application.

 

By demanding that art must pass a political test for it to be shown or performed, these artists calling for a boycott are —perhaps unwittingly — compromising the very basis of art as the purest form of expression.

 

Claims by some artists that the inclusion of Decadence somehow deprives them of“cultural safety” require proper explanation. The content and message of Decadence is entirely non-political.

 

Is it genuinely the case that these artists will no longer participate in festivals unless they are in ideological agreement with the entire corpus of works and performances and the policies pursued by governments in their country-of-origin?

 

Will visits by the Bolshoi Ballet toAustralia be boycotted by these same artists because they disagree with President Putin’s annexation of Crimea? What if Donald Trump is re-elected and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra plans a tour of Australia — will they also be de-platformed?

 

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this new political sensitivity adopted by some Australian artists applies only to Israel.

In the United Arab Emirates, Israeli cultural performers and tourists are being welcomed with open arms, as such cultural and artistic exchange is seen as a way to promote peace and coexistence between peoples.

In Australia, unfortunately, we have groups seeking to do the exact opposite. Artistic boycotts are not going to help achieve peace, but are instead focused on the perpetuation of conflict and division.

 

The small amount of funding being provided by the Israeli Embassy to support the performance is entirely normal activity for an embassy: to support cultural exchange and interaction. It carries no political strings. Most other embassies have similar cultural funding, and if it helps more international acts reach Australia, we should welcome it.

 

 

ENDS

 

 

Media contact: Jodie Mathews | jodie.mathews@aph.gov.au | 0466 366 522